Syndrome is a survival horror set in the depths of space, on board a drifting spacecraft where the crew have succumbed to madness and rage. It’s dark, the ship is in a state of disrepair and you have no idea what is going on. So begins Syndrome and the departure into the unknown.
Syndrome begins with the player’s character, Trent Galen, emerging from cryosleep. Disorientated and confused he stumbles into the centre of the room. It’s dark, with a few lights illuminating the environment. A disembodied voice instructs him that a solar flare is imminent and that the blast shields need to be manually closed. Syndrome instantly isolates players. From the very beginning, you’re equally confused as Galen. Where are the other crew mates? Why was Galen not awoken from cryosleep with the rest of them? Questions that don’t immediately come clear which adds to the pressing loneliness.
For me, fear is being trapped alone in the dark. This is where Syndrome truly excels. The environment is that of a typical sci-fi horror with some minor adjustments. I didn’t notice any eerie music in the background, just the sound of Galen’s footsteps on cold steel as I guided him through the desolate spacecraft. Investigation of the ships computers only serves to add to the confusion. Data logs show the vast majority of the crew are dead, but a small number are still alive But where are they? The twenty minutes of the game or so act as a slow moving tutorial. Giving players a chance to get to grips with the controls.
With no clear goal other than to close the blast shield you’re required to wander with no sense of direction. Once this has been completed, you’re able to access further areas of the ship, where the game really begins. A voice crackles through the radio expressing her surprise that you’re not dead and tells you that a number of the crew were overcome with fits of violent rage. As a result, she and around 7 of her men are hold up in the hull of the ship. It’s up to you to save them.
To be a true horror game, there must be at least some element of danger. The subtle hint of monsters and the occasional musical score can’t keep a player tense indefinitely. While I admit, I was a good hour into the game before I saw any real monsters, I still found myself on the edge of my seat, just waiting for that moment I knew was coming. When you do finally encounter the crazed crew members, you realise that the choices you make, fight or flight, will have a direct consequence to your survival. Yes, you find firearms and other weaponry but ammo is scarce. You find yourself employing the more – personally, I think – terrifying option of hiding and sneaking past enemies wherever possible. Monsters loose their ability to frighten people if they’re easy to defeat.
There are a great number of things that Syndrome gets right, but equally, there are some things that let it down. The story is my main gripe. While I understand in order to feel the same oppressive loneliness of the character you play as it’s important to not know too much at the beginning. It’s this lack of knowledge which is also the stories greatest downfall. The in-game narrative is mainly revealed through a number of readable items. While it does offer a sense of mystery and intrigue, I found it tiresome especially when worrying about my very survival.
Graphically, Syndrom is a beautiful looking game. Taking many cues from similar games in the genre such as Alien: Isolation and Dead Space. The detail of the environment is exquisite and really makes you believe you could be on board an abandoned spacecraft drifting through the unknown. Lights flicker, damaged cables spark and pipes vent steam, as you would expect in a horror game. But it’s all done in a subtle way to help build that tension before the inevitable fear inducing encounter. With this being said, some of the character models don’t feel like they fit within the environments. Where the cold corridors running with cables and data panels are near perfect, the NPC’s have a wooden feel to them which is really disappointing, considering the effort that has gone into making the whole atmosphere feel so realistic.
All in all, I feel that Syndrome is a great horror game. Yes, the idea may be cliched and the story somewhat lacking, but that doesn’t take away from the overall experience, which is the fear of the unknown and the crushing loneliness in the depths of space. Yes, the character movements could do with some work, but when you’re running and hiding in fear, I’m not so sure this is a major issue.